Honors Junior Seminar Class Works with Hearts and Homes for Refugees


“Our voices are louder and actions stronger when we work together,” is a slogan written on the website of the Hearts and Homes for Refugees, who are partnered with Prof. Patrick Fazioli’s Honors Junior Seminar class to collect winter clothing and donate it.

According to the website for Hearts and Homes for Refugees, it is a growing network of volunteers committed to offering refugees hope and opportunity. They offer refuge to those fleeing violence and persecution and identify and tap resources that aid refugee populations and use their expertise and experience to educate, inspire and equip others to welcome the stranger.

“There was a Need (humanitarian crisis),  a Void (absence of any support), a Precedent For Solutions (refugee resettlement through community co-sponsorship during the 1970s Southeast Asia refugee crisis) and there were ample Resources (people of goodwill able and willing to put their energy–time, experience and resources–toward a solution,” said the President and founder of Hearts and Homes for Refugees, Kathie O’Callaghan. 

The organization began in 2016 with volunteers in Pelham, who were scared for the millions of families who had been fleeing their homes and suffering. With nowhere for refugees to go, in a resource filled county like Westchester, Hearts, and Homes for Refugees was formed to take from the most powerful resource there is the goodwill of one million residents. People believe there’s work to be done that could ease the transition to American life and to make it more possible for refugees to resettle in the United States. 

The community partner, Hearts and Homes for Refugees, is a Westchester-based nonprofit grassroots organization that focuses on helping refugees who have been resettled in our area.

“Each fall, they hold a Winter Drive to collect warm clothing items for these families, who were forced to flee their home countries due to war, persecution, or natural disaster. They receive only limited and temporary aid from our government, and most have never been through a harsh New York winter,” said Fazioli. 

“As a community-based learning project, my Junior Seminar class is assisting in the Winter Drive, collecting donations around campus and raising money with a raffle and bake sale. We chose this project because it fits nicely with the global focus of our Honors Program, and hope to give some aid and comfort to those who’ve been through a traumatic experience that most of us could never imagine.” 

There are refugees in the United States seeking asylum who are being held in jail-like facilities and children have been forced to separate from their parents and their families while they are seeking protection and being criminally prosecuted.

The United States asylum system is under attack, the current administration introducing new policies that are not meeting the requirements for protecting those seeking asylum that has been established under international and U.S. law. Some people that are crossing the border are being sent to the Justice Department to be prosecuted, and after all undocumented parents are criminally prosecuted, their children automatically become considered unaccompanied minors, detained and transferred into government custody.

There are many organizations and groups, such as the United Nations, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Episcopal Church and many more, that are publicly condemning family separation and are advocating for the humane treatment of asylum seekers.

The Hearts and Homes for Refugees organization believe that there are more humane solutions for an immigration policy that would include an end to family separations, bringing all separated children back to their parents and services to help these people overcome their traumatic experiences.

“As a matter of self-interest, I believe that immigration strengthens and enriches our country.  As a matter of morality, I believe we have a duty to improve the suffering of those whose lives have imperiled by war or oppression. Hearts and Homes represents a tangible way to act on these sentiments,” said Hearts and Homes for Refugees member, Peter Collery, who was answering the question of why he wanted to join the organization.

The Westchester Refugee Initiative (The WRI) has a simple vision of a Westchester County that offers tolerance and respect for the people who have had to flee from their homes. Their goal is to share knowledge and opportunities to raise awareness about the issues there are with the refugees, and to advocate for the acceptance and protection of them. The WRI strategies that power can be mobilized and expanded to reach the existing volunteer network and to enable the continued growth of this welcoming movement. The WRI creates programs and opportunities to support refugees in their integration and their assimilation as new Americans. 

Jane Morgan is a member of Hearts and Homes for Refugees who wanted to join Kathie O’Callaghan and her concepts because she was very frustrated with the direction that U.S. politics was headed.

As the global refugee crisis was getting direr, the U.S. response was becoming more insular and less kind and welcoming.  This response went against everything in my nature and everything I have stood for all my life. I believe in offering a hand, helping others to thrive, that there is enough for all of us, that our differences make us great. I am not threatened by “other,” she said. 

Morgan says she grew up believing that the mix that is America is the bedrock of this country.

“I believe in the poem at the foot of the Statue of Liberty and I will not let some rogues come along and derail the American dream and all of us who believe in it without fighting like hell to stop them.”